By KAREN YAP
The first competition that I participated in was the Majlis Sukan Sekolah Malaysia (MSSM) in Ipoh. I competed in shot put and won a gold medal, my first medal ever.
At the age of 13, I was selected to study in SMK Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah in Kajang, Selangor. It used to be a secondary school mainly for athletes. We studied and trained twice a day to increase our fitness level and strength in preparation for upcoming sports events.
From the age of 11 to 17, I broke seven national age-group records and won seven gold medals in shot put and discus. Unfortunately, at the age of 18, I accidentally tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on my right knee, and underwent an operation. After the operation, I went through an intensive rehab programme as I needed to prepare for an upcoming competition.
The following year, I managed to break my first national record in discus at the Malaysia Open which was held in Penang.
When I was 21, I trained under a new coach from Slovakia. With new techniques and a significant improvement on my fitness level, within two months, I broke three national records at the Negri Sembilan Open, Taiwan Open and Sukma 2008.
I was doing very well in my sports career when suddenly, everything changed.
In 2009, right after I got back from the India Grand Prix, I hurt my right knee again and tore the meniscus (the cartilage that cushions the thighbone and shinbone). I had no choice but to undergo an operation as the injury was too severe and I couldn’t walk at all. After the operation, I did rehab therapy every day to speed up recovery and strengthen my muscles.
Then the unthinkable happened. Just a month after my operation, I fell while walking on crutches to the rehab room. It had been raining heavily and I had reminded myself to walk carefully. But the tiles were too slippery and I fell and hit my operated knee on the floor. I was hospitalised and underwent a knee MRI scan. I could not believe my ears when the doctor told me I needed another operation.
The ACL which was operated on earlier, had loosened and become unstable due to the impact. I was devastated. After careful consideration, and against the doctor’s advice, I decided not to go for another operation. Instead, I intensified my rehab programme to strengthen my muscles. I went for rehab treatment three times a day.
After going through the intensive rehab for eight months, I qualified to join Sukma 2010 in Malacca. I won a gold medal there.
The next day, we travelled to Europe for training camp and competition for seven weeks. In the last week before we returned to Malaysia, I felt discomfort in my back which developed into severe backache. I ignored the pain because I needed to grab the chance to train as much as I could while we were in Europe.
The morning after we got back from Europe, I woke up horrified because I was not able to feel my legs. I got my roommate to assist me to the physio room, which was a five-minute walk from my room. It took me more than 45 minutes as I could hardly move my legs.
I went for an X-ray, MRI scan and bone scan. I was very upset and disappointed as more bad news awaited me. The doctor told me there was a fracture on the left and right side of my fifth lumbar vertebra and that it was misaligned. He warned me to stop all training and competition. I had only two options: operation or rehabilitation. I chose rehabilitation.
It was the darkest moment of my life. My teammates and juniors were training hard for the next game and there I was, barely able to move my body. I was shattered. I felt so down. I wanted to end my sports career. But I asked myself: Have I achieved my goal yet? I had a very clear answer deep inside my heart: “No, not yet!”
I did not want to give up without a fight, and pressed on with rehab twice a day. I focused on all the strengthening exercises for the next six months.
In 2011, I was ready for the next game after the full rehab programme. I went for the Malacca Open and broke another national record. I was excited and pleased with my results. I strongly believe that nothing is impossible if we want to do it.
In 2012, I started a part-time job at a physiotherapy and rehab centre but I continued a full training programme every day after work. I did not skip any training because I wanted to achieve my goal and win a medal in the SEA Games.
I went for training every day. I did rehab exercises to strengthen my back and knee. It was the only alternative to an operation.
In 2014, I was ready for the next game – the Vietnam Open. I broke another national record. This qualified me for the SEA Games in Singapore. My coach, family and friends were so happy for me.
I continued with the intensive training programme every evening and every weekend when I was off from work. I spent all my time working and training. I didn’t have time to hang out with friends. I needed to focus and prepare for the SEA Games.
Finally, during the SEA Games in Singapore in June, I bagged a silver. I had worked for eight years for this. Finally, I got my medal after years of torture – both mental and physical – as a result of my injuries. I knew I could do it. And I did.
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